Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Aladdin: Christopher Gray Flies High as the Djinn of the Lamp

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By Stephanie Brown, Houston Ballet Public Relations Intern

Christopher Gray and Artists of Houston Ballet
Christopher Gray as the Djinn (Genie) with artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

David Bintley’s Aladdin, which runs March 22&23 at the Auditorium Theatre, has a way of enchanting the audience with beautiful, unique props and exquisite, colorful costumes. Below are some photos for your viewing pleasure!


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Behind the scenes shots by Stephanie Brown

One of my favorite characters in Aladdin is the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), and demi soloist Christopher Gray dances his heart out in this role. I was intrigued by his experience in creating his own version of the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), so we asked a few questions about the role.

Watch video of Christopher Gray as the Djinn in Aladdin.




Houston Ballet: Tell us about dancing as the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie). What are the most challenging aspects? What are the most exciting?


Christopher Gray_Photo Amitava_2012
Christopher Gray; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Christopher Gray: Hands down, one of the most challenging things is that some of the magical reveals were hidden in set pieces for long periods of time before some pretty difficult dancing. So it’s the opposite of what you would normally do, which is to stay moving, keep yourself loose and then go out and dance. Being crouched down in a small space before having to dance is pretty difficult.

For the most exciting thing, this is my third time flying in ballet, and I always love doing that. The audience always really appreciates it. On opening night during the first scene with the levitation, everybody applauded. It was great! So that’s always exciting for me. It’s a challenge as well because you’re at the mercy of the wire when you’re up there. There’s not too much you can do to keep yourself from spinning or swinging, so it’s learning how to do those small adjustments without putting yourself in a counter rotation.

Houston Ballet: Explain your wardrobe. How do you feel about being painted completely blue?

Christopher Gray: Fortunately, it’s not completely blue. I don’t have to paint my legs. This in terms of ballet costumes is not so difficult to dance in, which I always like. Sometimes we have pounds and pounds of clothing and wigs we have to deal with, so this is relatively simple. [I wear] just a small vest and baggy pants


Aladdin C├ęsar MoralesPrincess Badr al-Budur Nao SakumaThe Mahgrib Iain MackayThe Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao ChouAladdin’s Mother Marion TaitThe Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan PaynAladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Bill Cooper

Any time you don’t feel constricted by a costume, which I don’t because there are even shirtless scenes for me, it’s a lot easier to deal with. I prefer pants over tights any day of the week! In terms of wigs, Amanda, our wig and makeup person, has done a great job of making a wig that fits really flush to our heads. We just have a little bit of hair, like a top knot pony tail, which I don’t feel impedes my ability to turn and it doesn’t knock me off center, which is often a problem with costumes.

Being painted blue is hard. I’m there around 6:15 for a 7:30 start time. And that includes not even being on stage until a good 40 minutes into the first act. Overall, I face about an hour and a half worth of body makeup, face makeup, and wigs. It’s difficult and, once again, the opposite of how you would want to get ready for a show…you know, standing there half naked for an hour and a half. I do throw warm-up clothes back on top, but you don’t want to sweat the makeup off. It’s a fine line you have to deal with. I’m getting pretty used to being painted, though. I think this is my third or fourth color!

Houston Ballet: What do you do to get in character for the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie)?

Christopher Gray: As the body makeup and especially face makeup and wig come along, I feel like that’s part of my transformation. We have these wicked eyebrows and drag queen style makeup. So it’s hard not to look at yourself with a little bit of humor when you see the character staring back at you.

If anything, the one thing that I have been doing is going over the mime section to try to create an aura of power, confidence, mystery, and a little bit of humor as well. Trying to work the fake eyebrows has been fun. As the shows progress, you find more time and space for that on stage and then the character grows from there.


Artists of Houston Ballet
Artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet: What do you like about the props and costumes for Aladdin?

Christopher Gray: One of my favorites is probably the most simple: the lamp that lights up. I think it’s very effective on stage. Those few times Aladdin lifts it up and then there’s a big crescendo in the music when it turns on and starts glowing…I think that’s fantastic! Also, the magic carpet is done really well.

I wish I could see the show from the front, but unfortunately that’s not in the cards for me. The lion dance in the second act is a big crowd favorite, and I also dance the head portion of the lion. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It does pose a problem because it’s difficult to hear the music, though. When you start shaking the head all you hear is rattling!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Night Creature, Pas de Duke, The River, Revelations - Alvin Ailey Chicago Program C

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater visits the Auditorium Theatre for 10 performances, February 28 -March 9, 2014. The company will bring three programs, each featuring different pieces from their repertoire. Learn about the pieces in Program C below!

For tickets and information, click HERE.

Night Creature/ Pas de Duke / The River / Revelations
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
Wednesday, Mar 5 at 7:30PM
Saturday, Mar 8 at 2PM


Night Creature - Choreography by Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature is a bubbly champagne cocktail of a dance, a perfect fusion of Ailey’s buoyant choreography and Duke Ellington’s sparkling music.  At once wistful and sassy, it beckons viewers into a nocturnal world populated by jazz babies and night owls.
Photo by Gert Krautbauer
Ellington said that “night creatures, unlike stars, do not come OUT at night­– they come ON, each thinking that, before the night is out, he or she will be the star.” This large ensemble work is full of such stars — strutting, leaping and slinking through a variety of dance idioms as they flaunt and flirt with each other and the audience. They hold their hands like paws, as if they’re cats on the prowl, then slide seamlessly into balletic allegro jumps, Martha Graham-like contractions and Lester Horton layouts. It’s the definitive dance homage to the exuberance of The Duke’s sophisticated symphonic work.
Pas De Duke - Choreography by Alvin Ailey


Alvin Ailey's PAS DE DUKE from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Pas de Duke is Alvin Ailey’s spirited modern dance translation of a classical pas de deux, originally created in 1976 as a showcase for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. She was a reigning star of modern dance; he was one of the world’s most famous ballet dancers, having defected from the Soviet Union two years earlier. Ailey made brilliant use of the dancers’ physical and stylistic differences, crafting an elegant, flirtatious work that showed off their exuberance and virtuosity as they engaged in a playful game of one-upmanship.  
The work is comprised of five solos and duets that require extraordinary technical facility, flawless timing, and strong acting skills. Since its premiere nearly 40 years ago, it has been performed by generations of dancers who have each put their own unique twist on the choreography, and it has stood the test of time in part for how perfectly it captures the timeless sophistication of Duke Ellington's jazz music.  The New York Times has praised it as “one of those special dances that lives in new ways with each new set of performers.”

The River - Choreography by Alvin Ailey


Alvin Ailey's THE RIVER from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

By turns muscular and lyrical, The River is a sweeping full-company work that suggests tumbling rapids and meandering streams on a journey to the sea. Ailey’s allegory of birth, life and rebirth abounds with water references, from the spinning “Vortex” solo to the romantic “Lake” duet, and from the powerful “Falls” quartet to the joyful “Giggling Rapids.” The choreography demonstrates Ailey’s admiration for classical ballet, but retains the modern and jazz influences found in all his work. “The River shows Mr. Ailey at his inventive best,” declared The New York Times.
The grandeur of the dancing is matched by the music, which was Duke Ellington’s first symphonic score written for dance. Ailey and Ellington collaborated closely on the piece.
This new production has been restaged by Associate Artistic Director Masazumi Chaya, the foremost living expert on Ailey’s repertory. He believes that the ballet feels fresh each time around because “each audience member can make a story of their own from The River. Alvin was very clever; he created something that can be applied to one’s entire life — birth, a relationship with a child, or even one’s impression of a flower. It is what the audience makes of it. It is what it means to the individual.”
Revelations – Choreography by Alvin Ailey

Alvin Ailey's REVELATIONS from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul. More than just a popular dance work, it has become a cultural treasure, beloved by generations of fans.Seeing Revelations for the first time or the hundredth can be a transcendent experience, with audiences cheering, singing along and dancing in their seats from the opening notes of the plaintive “I Been ’Buked” to the rousing “Wade in the Water” and the triumphant finale, “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.”

Ailey said that one of America’s richest treasures was the African-American cultural heritage —“sometimes sorrowful, sometimes jubilant, but always hopeful.” This enduring classic is a tribute to that tradition, born out of the choreographer’s “blood memories” of his childhood in rural Texas and the Baptist Church. But since its premiere in 1960, the ballet has been performed continuously around the globe, transcending barriers of faith and nationality, and appealing to universal emotions, making it the most widely-seen modern dance work in the world.

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